Posts tagged ‘Al Capone’

I'm Feeling Pretty Good About These Remarks on Inauguration Day 2009

I caught a lot of grief on inauguration day 2009 for questioning the general feeling that some new era was beginning.  Most of you may have repressed the memory at this point of what that day was like, but even normally intelligent, well-grounded people were going a bit goo goo that day.  

I am feeling pretty good about the remarks I made that day.  Here is part of what I wrote.

I am not enough of a historian to speak for much more than the last thirty years, but the popularity of non-incumbent political candidates has typically been proportional to 1) their personal charisma and 2) our lack of knowlege of their exact proposals....Folks are excited about Obama because, in essence, they don't know what he stands for, and thus can read into him anything they want.  Not since the breathless coverage of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault has there been so much attention to something where we had no idea of what was inside.  My bet is that the result with Obama will be the same as with the vault.

There is some sort of weird mass self-hypnosis going on, made even odder by the fact that a lot of people seem to know they are hypnotized, at least at some level.  I keep getting shushed as I make fun of friends' cult behavior watching the proceedings today, as if by jiggling someone's elbow too hard I might break the spell.  Never have I seen, in my lifetime, so much emotion invested in a politician we know nothing about.   I guess I am just missing some gene that makes the rest of humanity receptive to this kind of stuff, but just for a minute snap your fingers in front of your face and say "do I really expect a fundamentally different approach from a politician who won his spurs in .... Chicago?  Do I really think the ultimate political outsider is going to be the guy who bested everyone at their own game in the Chicago political machine?"

Well, the spell will probably take a while to break in the press, if it ever does -- Time Magazine is currently considering whether it would be possible to put Obama on the cover of all 52 issues this year -- but thoughtful people already on day 1 should have evidence that things are the same as they ever were, just with better PR.

And I wrote this about the candidate I actually preferred over the Republican alternative McCain. Which explains why it has been ages since I have voted for anything but the Libertarian candidate for President.  The last election was actually a pleasant surprise, as I was able to cast a vote for Gary Johnson, who I was able to vote for not just as a protest vote but as someone I actually would love to see as President.

Regulatory Accumulation

There are certain regulatory agencies where it is clear from the outset that most of the agency's activity is merely aimed at protecting their own jobs and power.

The one such agency I run up against are Alcoholic Beverage Commissions in various states, from whom one must obtain a liquor license.  In the type of small store we run, there are really only two things the state should care about, and even the second is a bit weak

  • That we don't sell alcohol to underage kids
  • That we don't allow alcohol consumption on the premises

But the liquor licensing process can be interminable.  In Arizona, for example, I have had my applications kicked back to me, which resulted in 2-month delays in the process, because I wrote an address as 1313 48th Pl.  rather than 1313 48th Place.  They spend incredible man-hours looking for nit-picky mistakes like this, and then kick it back so that the whole review process must begin again.  Many states and counties have a second layer of review, to make sure that your new competition is "needed" - after all, we wouldn't want to upset the position of incumbent businesses who are entitled to their market share and who make nice campaign contributions.

Each application has to have a drawing of the store layout and where one plans to put the beer.  If you want to move the beer at a later date, you have to get the state's approval.  (Bizarrely, the drawing in most states has to be by hand -- they will kick back an application with a CAD drawing or architect's drawing).  And don't get me started on the fact I have to be finger-printed by the FBI (so they can be sure I am not Al Capone) before a store I own can sell beer.

All this being said -- and I didn't mean to run on so long but liquor licensing just drives me nuts -- it is nothing to this example from the pharmaceutical manufacturing business. I won't repeat it all, but take this example:

a drug manufacturer must get approval for how much of a drug it plans to produce, as well as the timeframe. If a shortage develops (because, say, the FDA shuts down a competitor’s plant), a drug manufacturer cannot increase its output of that drug without another round of approvals. Nor can it alter its timetable production (producing a shortage drug earlier than planned) without FDA approval.

They have to get their production schedules approved?  What possible justification can there be for this?  But even more outlandish is the apparent drive to regulate drugs that have been on the market for over 70 years and have to date been relatively unregulated because they were on the market before the FDA got its current powers.   Why should a bureaucrat lose her job when there are still unregulated items out there?  Besides, some uneducated American might use these examples of safe, unregulated drugs to question the who regulatory mission!

Several drug shortages (e.g., concentrated morphine sulfate solution, levothyroxine injection) have been precipitated by actual or anticipated action by the FDA as part of the Unapproved Drugs Initiative, which is designed to increase enforcement against drugs that lack FDA approval to be marketed in the United States. (These drugs are commonly called pre-1938 drugs, referring to their availability prior to passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of that year.) Some participants noted that the cost and complexity of completing a New Drug Application (NDA) for those unapproved drugs is a disincentive for entering or maintaining a market presence.

I have heard several medical people joke that it would be tough to get aspirin through the FDA today if it were a new drug and not grandfathered.  Don't know if that is true, but it feels believable.

Obama Presidency at Year 2

I must say I am feeling pretty good about my comments from Inauguration Day two years ago.  Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

Folks are excited about Obama because, in essence, they don't know what he stands for, and thus can read into him anything they want.  Not since the breathless coverage of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault has there been so much attention to something where we had no idea of what was inside.  My bet is that the result with Obama will be the same as with the vault.There is some sort of weird mass self-hypnosis going on, made even odder by the fact that a lot of people seem to know they are hypnotized, at least at some level.  I keep getting shushed as I make fun of friends' cult behavior watching the proceedings today, as if by jiggling someone's elbow too hard I might break the spell.  Never have I seen, in my lifetime, so much emotion invested in a politician we know nothing about.   I guess I am just missing some gene that makes the rest of humanity receptive to this kind of stuff, but just for a minute snap your fingers in front of your face and say "do I really expect a fundamentally different approach from a politician who won his spurs in "¦. Chicago?  Do I really think the ultimate political outsider is going to be the guy who bested everyone at their own game in the Chicago political machine?"

Well, the spell will probably take a while to break in the press, if it ever does "” Time Magazine is currently considering whether it would be possible to put Obama on the cover of all 52 issues this year "” but thoughtful people already on day 1 should have evidence that things are the same as they ever were, just with better PR.   For God sakes, as his first expenditure of political capital, Obama is pushing for a trillion dollar government spending bill that is basically one big pork-fest that might make even Ted Stevens blush, a hodge-podge of every wish-list of leftish lobbyists that has been building up for eight years.  I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

To this last point, the recent recommendations by the Center for American Progress to Obama are pretty chilling.

[The] Center for American Progress today is releasing a report, "Power of the President," proposing 30 executive actions the president can take to advance progressive change in the areas of energy, the economy, health care, education, foreign policy, and national security. "The following authorities can be used to ensure progress on key issues facing the country today: Executive orders, Rulemaking, Agency management, Convening and creating public-private partnerships , Commanding the armed forces, Diplomacy.

The New York Times fleshes out these proposals with some suggestions about policy changes across the board. The ideology of George Soros shines through the Center's report as it justifies this forceful approach to circumvent Congress when it states that:

[The] legislative battles that Mr. Obama waged during his first two years "“ notably on health care and financial regulatory reform "“ have created a weariness among the general public with the process of making laws. And it hints it has not helped Mr. Obama politically in the process.

In other words, when Congress passed a variety of laws Americans became dismayed by the horse-trading and bribes that were resorted to by Democrats to impose these policies on us. Instead of compromise and listening to the American people, Soros counsels that more forceful measures should be used to override the will of the American people.

Sheriff Joe May Finally Get Nailed

Most everyone knows that Al Capone was finally nailed for tax evasion, rather than murder, robber, extortion and all the more heinous crimes for which he was mostly likely guilty.  For years, an unfortunately relatively small group of us here in Phoenix have tried to see Sheriff Joe Arpaio brought to justice, or at least removed from office, for his numerous abuses of power.   Lacking the success so far, Arpaio may finally go down for fraud in his management of County funds.

In something that should be a surprise to no one, even his supporters, the supremely arrogant Arpaio did not like state law and the county supervisors rules on where he could spend different parts of his budget.  So it appears he created a shadow payroll system that has only just been discovered that has been paying different people different amounts for different purposes than what shows up in the official County payroll systems, and has been doing so for over a decade.

Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson and her staff in the Office of Management and Budget for months have worked to figure out how extensive financial problems are, and she expressed shock at the hidden system.

"They've developed a system that basically tracks where they are working versus where they are being paid, and they did not update the official database, which led to the potential problems," Wilson said. "I think they deliberately hid this info from us."

The employee-tracking database was in a secure criminal-justice computer system accessible only to the Sheriff's Office. Control of access to that system, known as ICJIS, has been the subject of a long-running and expensive legal battle during the past two years.

County administrators say they were puzzled by the sheriff's willingness to sue over what they viewed as minor issues related to control of the ICJIS system. The fight by the sheriff to block county access to the system has cost more than $1.6 million.

County officials believe Sheriff's Chief Deputy David Hendershott sought to limit access to the system to hide the shadow payroll records it contained. Those records showed that potentially hundreds of employees who did no work in the jails were being paid with detention funds.

"That's a reasonable conclusion to draw, but we don't know for sure," Irvine said. "From Maricopa County's perspective, the ICJIS dispute and lawsuit has made no sense."

County officials sent information on the payroll system to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review. That office is conducting a separate abuse-of-power probe of Sheriff Arpaio, his employees and others.

The article fails to mention it, but I believe that the county computer facility mentioned above was the same one that Arpaio sent armed deputies storming in to take over about a year ago.  At the time, no one really bought his explanation that it was about protecting sensitive criminal information from prying eyes.  I hypothesized it was to take control of an email server that had incriminating information about Arpaio, but now it turns out it may have been to protect his shadow payroll system.

One Year Later

I think my post from Inauguration Day one year ago holds up pretty well, though I caught a lot of grief for it at the time  [a few spelling errors fixed]

OK, I was really going to remain silent today, because no one seems to want to hear a rant about today's imperial coronation.  But as I sit here watching the press coverage and waiting for John the Baptist to show up, and as I observe the general cultish hysteria and the swooning of normally serious adult people, I just can't help myself.  For a libertarian like myself, its like watching people line up at 3am to be the first to be in the store when McDonald's switches its fountain drinks from Coke to Pepsi.   Heck, I was creeped out by the cult following of Ron Paul this year, a politician I agree with a lot, so I certainly am going to get the willies from the love-fest for an admitted statist like Obama.

I am not enough of a historian to speak for much more than the last thirty years, but the popularity of non-incumbent political candidates has typically been proportional to 1) their personal charisma and 2) our lack of knowledge of their exact proposals.  Seriously, can you name any other difference (on the plus side) between Obama and Hillary other than these two?  We forget, but GWB was the unknown newcomer in 1992.  As was Clinton and Carter.  Reagan was an exception, but was running against an incumbent who really had a terrible four years, and Bush I was an exception as well, though he was running against one of the weakest candidates and campaigns the Democrats have fielded in 50 years.  Folks are excited about Obama because, in essence, they don't know what he stands for, and thus can read into him anything they want.  Not since the breathless coverage of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault has there been so much attention to something where we had no idea of what was inside.  My bet is that the result with Obama will be the same as with the vault.

There is some sort of weird mass self-hypnosis going on, made even odder by the fact that a lot of people seem to know they are hypnotized, at least at some level.  I keep getting shushed as I make fun of friends' cult behavior watching the proceedings today, as if by jiggling someone's elbow too hard I might break the spell.  Never have I seen, in my lifetime, so much emotion invested in a politician we know nothing about.   I guess I am just missing some gene that makes the rest of humanity receptive to this kind of stuff, but just for a minute snap your fingers in front of your face and say "do I really expect a fundamentally different approach from a politician who won his spurs in "¦. Chicago?  Do I really think the ultimate political outsider is going to be the guy who bested everyone at their own game in the Chicago political machine?"

Well, the spell will probably take a while to break in the press, if it ever does "” Time Magazine is currently considering whether it would be possible to put Obama on the cover of all 52 issues this year "” but thoughtful people already on day 1 should have evidence that things are the same as they ever were, just with better PR.   For God sakes, as his first expenditure of political capital, Obama is pushing for a trillion dollar government spending bill that is basically one big pork-fest that might make even Ted Stevens blush, a hodge-podge of every wish-list of leftish lobbyists that has been building up for eight years.  I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

It has been suggested by some that today is less a cultish coronation but a big victory party in the battle against racism.  Well, I am certainly willing to accept it on those terms.  I have been arguing for years that it is time to declare victory on the worst aspects of race and gender discrimination, and move on to problems of interest to all races (like individual freedom or giving kids options to escape crappy public schools).   Unfortunately, I fear that too many folks in power are dependent on the race/gender/class wars continuing, so you and I may think we are declaring victory, but those with power over our lives have not.

Bureaucracies Never Die

A while back, I lamented all the work it takes in some states to get a liquor license.  Most liquor license laws stem back to the emergence from prohibition, when states wanted to purge organized crime from the liquor business.  What the heck, then, are they trying to do today, other than limit competition for incumbents, which is the typical role of licensing?  Before I go on, I can't help quoting Milton Friedman again about liscencing of all sorts:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Anyway, here in Arizona, it takes a load of paperwork even to change the manager of a licensed facility (even regulation-happy California does not require this).  For each manager, a multi-page application, personal history, proof of training, and fingerprint cards (yes, really) have to be submitted, and an FBI background check has to be completed (to make sure they never worked for Al Capone, I guess).

Today, I got my new managers application back from the license bureaucracy a second time for corrections.  This time, here are the two errors they found:

  • For the year when the manager was full time RVing (that means living the nomadic life with no permanent home, roaming the country in his RV) he didn't show a permanent address.  Yes, we explained his lifestyle then, but the form requires a permanent address for the last five years and can't be processed without it
  • For a period of time when the manager was unemployed, he did not fill in his own home address where it asked for his employer's address

That's it - after sitting in their hands for weeks. After already returning the application to me before with another flaw, and never mentioning these flaws.  No phone call to get the information, just rejected out of hand, requiring the whole process start over again. 

After dealing with these folks for years, it is absolutely clear to me that they have totally lost sight of what the original mission of their organization might have been, and have substituted the mission "uncompromisingly ensure the rigorous compliance with all forms and processes adopted by this organization in the past".